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John Daly

John Daly

Dr. John C.K. Daly is the chief analyst for Oilprice.com, Dr. Daly received his Ph.D. in 1986 from the School of Slavonic and East European…

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Have MIT Researchers Cracked Renewable Energy Bottleneck?

Amidst soaring oil prices, renewable energy advocates have two eyes of the needle to pass through.

The first is that their kilowatt hour of electricity production is currently higher than energy generated from more traditional fossil fuel sources, such as coal and hydrocarbons.

The second is a technological bottleneck – how to store the energy generated by wind and solar power, which depend on natural processes that are best inconsistent.

The wind doesn’t blow 24/7 and the sun goes down.

Accordingly, storage issues of electricity generated during the peak periods of optimum natural production are the second issue of renewable power generation, how to store and consistently release that energy generated during peak periods back to the grid when the evening comes.

It appears that a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found a way to address this conundrum. If so, they have a license to print money, and savvy investors should pay close attention to the news below.

In 2009 MIT Professor Donald Sadoway along with one of his best and brightest graduate students David Bradwell, began investigating “thinking outside the envelope” on battery design. Professor Sadoway and his team investigated new liquid batteries, designed to use low-cost, abundant materials, placing three layers of liquid inside a container: Two different metal alloys, and one layer of salt. The three materials have different densities that allow them to separate naturally into three distinct layers, with the salt in the middle separating the two metal layers. For more of the technology, see the press release.

The initial downside is that the device is kept at a high temperature, around 700 degrees Celsius, so that the layers remain molten.

Flaky scientist techno-dreams?

Well consider – the same month that Professor Sadoway and his team announced their research, the newly established federal Advanced Research Projects Agency announced its first 37 energy-research grants out of a pool of 3,600 applications, and Professor Sadoway’s project to develop utility-scale batteries was awarded almost $7 million for the next five years. Shortly afterwards, the French oil company Total announced a $4 million, five-year joint venture with MIT to develop a smaller-scale version of the same technology, suitable for use in individual homes or other buildings.

Not surprisingly, “Because the technology is being patented and could lead to very large-scale commercialization, Professor Sadoway three years ago would not discuss the details of the materials being used. But both Professor Sadoway and ARPA-E said the battery is based on low-cost, domestically available liquid metals that have the potential to shatter the cost barrier to large-scale energy storage as part of the nation's energy grid.”

In announcing its funding of Professor Sadoway’s work, ARPA-E said the battery technology “could revolutionize the way electricity is used and produced on the grid, enabling round-the-clock power from America's wind and solar power resources, increasing the stability of the grid, and making blackouts a thing of the past.”

The test platform? Professor Sadoway and his team have gradually ramped up their experiments and have now progressed to using 6-inch wide cells with 200 times the power storage capacity of previous experiments.

Okay, fast forward three years.

MIT press release office again. “Professor Sadoway says of the major energy companies, “They don’t care what the stuff is made of, or what the size is. The only question is what’s the cost of storage.”

Professor Sadoway and his team are now working to optimize all aspects of the system, including the containers used to hold the molten materials as well as considering methods of insulating and heating them including reducing the operating temperature to help cut energy costs.

In considering the above information, it is important not to be blindsided by “gigantism,” the idea that somehow only massive applications of this technology capable of feeding into massive megawatt power generation structures are the way to go. The MIT technology has the potential capacity to work with modest “stand-alone” sites, from individual businesses to more upscale facilities.

If Professor Sadoway’s discoveries are capable of “ramping up,” then renewable energy’s missing bottleneck might be closer to resolution.

For those skeptics requiring further validation, here is the link to the American Chemical Society:

Final word?

Professor Sadoway; “If this technology succeeds, it could be a game changer for renewable energy.”

And Professor Sadoway and his colleagues have established a company to promote their innovations.

So, remember, if you go there, you read it here first at Oilprice.com, and we want a taste of the profits!

By. Dr. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

Oilprice - The No. 1 Source for Oil & Energy News